Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #138: Melbourne's 'Rapid Running' bus trial - can it work?


One of the initiatives in Victoria's Bus Plan, released back in June (and reviewed here), was a 'rapid running' trial on certain bus routes. 

The Minister's foreword states:

Rapid Running is being successfully trialled on Route 246 and up to 10 more routes will be trialled before the end of the year.

So what is 'rapid running'? 

It's a jazzier term for what is more often called 'headway management' or 'frequency timetables'. 

Why would you do it? 

Consider a passenger making a short trip on a bus from A to B. They board the bus and, a short time later, the bus stops. Apparently it's running early and needs to wait for the timetable to catch up. If traffic conditions are light or scheduling is loose the bus could easily sit for five minutes while it waits for its scheduled departure time. 


That's not a good experience as the wait is a large proportion of the total travel time. And time not moving is perceived as longer than time in motion, even if slowly, so it seems worse. 

'Rapid running' aims to keep the bus moving for more of the time. It shifts the emphasis from exact times to maintaining a specified headway so buses no longer need to stop if ahead of time. Passengers making short trips like A to B might find them quicker as time point waits are removed. 


The three highs of 'rapid running'

Headway management is potentially useful on busy roads where varying traffic conditions greatly affect bus run times. Such variability makes it difficult to write a timetable that will be adhered to.  

However at least three conditions must be met for the trial to succeed. These include: 

1. High Frequency. You would never headway manage routes not frequent enough to be regarded by users as 'turn up and go'. Infrequent buses need fixed timetables, preferably timed with the trains they feed (especially if these are also infrequent). Waiting time is perceived as longer than time in the bus (even if stopped at a time point) so unless there's enough buses to run short headways, 'rapid running' is more trouble than it's worth.  

How frequent must a bus be before you'd consider it suitable for headway management? Expert opinions vary but there seems agreement that you not do it unless services were every 10 minutes or better.  


Based on a 10 minute cut-off, where are Melbourne's frequent bus routes? 

Unlike other cities of our size we have only a handful, even if you look at weekday timetables only. They're labelled below.  

Frequent corridors formed by multiple routes are harder to rapidly run (at least in both directions) so are shown but not labelled. 


Our lack of frequent routes makes finding even 'up to the ten more' suggested in the Minister's Bus Plan preface a tough ask. Now on to the remaining two conditions. 

2. High technical, operational and cultural readiness on the part of the bus operator and contracting agency. A quality 'rapid running' operation with even intervals between buses requires more close monitoring and responding via a control centre using traffic data from the road management agency. That can then be used to provide information feedback to drivers and an ability to vary the number of buses on a route to maintain headway under busy or quiet traffic conditions. Passenger counters on buses might enable better responsiveness to surges in patronage, but again there needs to be the ability and resources to respond quickly.

Ideally bus data would also flow back the other way, to the traffic authority, so that traffic signal phasing gives buses a good run. This data revolution has implications for bus management practices from depot locations to staff rostering, operator payments and performance monitoring, management and penalties.  

3. High passenger trust. Take away a timetable with specific times and passengers will scream. Especially if it's a low-trust system where transport departments are seen as distant from passenger concerns or not really in control. The following can lower trust in a bus network: 

a. Services are run by poor quality operators (like the soon to exit Transdev Melbourne about 4 or 5 years ago with its dirty, cancelled and unmaintained buses) without effective oversight from transport bureaucrats (who can't be too tough in case they damage their prospects for jobs elsewhere in the industry, including at those they previously regulated). 

b. 'Rapid running' is introduced simultaneously with unpopular changes like privatisation and radical network reform, especially if it removes coverage (like what was proposed then scrapped in Adelaide last year). It is better to introduce it separately and gradually, like we are doing. And explain it well.  

c. Real-time information is either missing or unreliable. Seeing a bus show up as coming, not arrive and then pass after you have given up waiting really shakes faith in the network. Real time information systems need to be at least an order of magnitude more reliable than the system they're monitoring to win user trust. For buses in Melbourne we're not there yet! 

d. There is no public operational performance reporting or accountability. For a long time we reported train, tram but not bus service delivery in Track Record. Buses with fixed timetables are now reported too. However there still needs to be a way to report performance of 'rapid running' bus routes. For a route with a nominal headway of 10 minutes, reporting could highlight instances where fewer than 6 trips per hour run and gaps between buses exceed (say) 12 minutes. 

e. There is a passive official acceptance that bus passengers come near last in the transport system, with few exclusive lanes and services cancelled or diverted when car traffic volumes prevent buses from moving. 


Another example of bus' low status is what happens if services are disrupted. If Metro train services are suspended replacement buses are brought in. Indeed contingency arrangements exist with bus companies to do just that. Whereas if a bus operator can't run its buses then there are rarely arrangements for others to take over, so trips just don't run with 30 to 60 minute gaps, even on major routes. The main recent exception was during Transdev's fleet maintenance crisis of 2017 where other operators' buses stepped in to run Transdev routes. 

'Rapid running' could be described as a 'social contract' between bus operator and passenger. We take away your timetables in exchange for running a frequent service and better responding to traffic conditions. Its acceptance depends on passenger trust that needs to be earned beforehand.  

I think it would be fair to say that generally Melbourne has a low to moderate trust bus system, although parts, like the most university shuttles, have much higher reputations. That's important because if trust is high it is likely easier to win (even if grudging) acceptance of bus reform like but not limited to 'rapid running'. 

Which routes are getting rapid running?

The first route we knew about to get rapid running was the 246 down Punt Rd/Hoddle St. This is a popular route along one of inner-Melbourne's busiest road. It is one of just two 7 day routes to feature a 10 minute interpeak service (the other is the 402 across from Footscray). 

'Rapid Running' for the 246 commenced in March 2021, before the Bus Plan came out. 

There were enough results by June for the minister to be able to say it had been a success. 

A little later the PTV website page advising the 246 trial was updated with other routes listed for 'testing frequency timetables'. These were described as 'selected high frequency bus routes'. 

Timetables would be removed from stops but the buses would continue to follow timetables (unlike the 246). Passengers would be surveyed on what they thought, with the possibility raised that the routes could change to a 'turn up and go' service like the 246. 


Let's go through these routes, starting with the most frequent first. 

* The 401 Melbourne and 601 Monash are both university shuttles that are already very frequent (eg up to every 3 or 4 min). All users would definitely be using them as a turn-up-and go service right now. These are exactly the sort of services that you'd have frequency timetables for with their short lengths likely making management easier. 

* 301 is another university shuttle (Reservoir - La Trobe). This runs every 10 minutes. However the train service it was designed to connect to at Reservoir is only every 20 minutes off-peak. That makes arrival time important. Even if the bus is frequent you still need to have scheduled times and fixed timetables to avoid the possibility of just missed trains. Hence I'm wary about 'rapid running' on this route despite its frequency.   

* 402 is the only other single seven day route in Melbourne that's every 10 minutes. Like the 246 it runs seven days but less frequently on weekends and with shorter operating hours. And it can similarly be described as being of moderate length, unlike the short university shuttles discussed thus far. Length is important because in a few lucky cases there may be times where you might be able to save a bus or boost frequency if run times are consistently shorter than the timetable allows. This makes it the next  most suitable route for a trial after the 246. 

* 250/251 are both every 20 minutes each. These provide a 10 minute combined service through Melbourne's inner north. This is why only southbound trips would have their timetables removed. This different presentation of information may confuse passengers since northbound trips will retain timetables at stops and the same passengers will likely be using both.

* 513 to Glenroy. This absolutely should not be a part of the trial even though it serves busy Bell Street. Not only because it's a long and confusing route with alternating paths in the east. The main reason to object is it's just not frequent enough. The PTV list above claims 15 minute frequencies, but this is wrong; the 513 operates only every 20 minutes, a frequency that definitely needs a timetable. The 513 should be removed from the trial until the route is reformed and services upgraded. 

What wasn't mentioned? Most conspicuous is the other frequent university shuttle, the 202 from Parkville to Victoria Park. Its 10 minute frequency is like LaTrobe's 301 and, beyond Clifton Hill, the trains it connects to are every 20 minutes interpeak. It only started on September 20, so maybe they wanted to try a regular timetable first. 

Something that would have disrupted 'rapid running' trials on routes run by Transdev (including the 246) is that reduced driver availability due to COVID has seen mass cancellations with some services slashed by 50% or more. With low frequencies, even on some of our main bus routes, you absolutely have to have fixed timetables and 'rapid running' is out of the question. 

Other possibilities

If things go well and the trials were a success, where else would you consider it? 

If the lessened legibility of doing it in one direction only on the inner portion of a corridor of routes is acceptable then two other potential corridors include the 905/906/907 from Collingwood into the city and the 200/207 from Kew into the city. These provide approximately a combined 5 and 10 minute service respectively. 

Another possibility is peak service on the routes with intensive peaks eg some of the 900-series SmartBuses (900, part 903, 905, 906, 907, 908) and possibly others like the 220, 234 and 465. 900, with its two companies running the route, would be operationally difficult if not impossible. Peak buses serving Fishermans Bend might also be close to the 10 minute frequency required. 

Key to further expansion is Sydney-style bus network reform to simplify services and increase the number of routes operating every 10 minutes or better. This is especially if 'rapid running' can reduce dwell time so that headways can be got down to 8 or 9 minutes. It should be emphasised though that rapid running should never be regarded as a substitute for useful but politically difficult initiatives such as bus priority and segregation on key corridors. 

The sort of short to medium distance and high patronage potential routes that could justify, high priority, 5 - 10 minute frequencies and rapid running might include the likes of:  

* 201 Upgraded Box Hill - Deakin Uni shuttle
* 220 Megabus along Ballarat Rd between Sunshine, Footscray and CBD
* 406 Megabus between Footscray, VU and Highpoint (with extension & other reform)
* 733 SRL SmartBus between Box Hill, Mt Waverley, Monash, Clayton, Southland, Sandringham
* 904 Megabus between Coburg, Preston, Northland and Heidelberg
* 900 Megabus between Caulfield, Chadstone, Monash and Stud Park
* 907 Megabus between City, Doncaster and Mitcham

These included upgraded regular routes and or significant reform to other routes. This lowers the cost of providing the desired 10 minute or better service needed for 'rapid running'. This needs to be done before 'rapid running' is attempted as all are currently only every 15 - 30 minutes interpeak. 

More ambitious upgrades, again with new 10 min or better off-peak service, might include:

* New 620 SmartBus Caulfield - La Trobe University
* 901 SmartBus between Ringwood, Dandenong and Frankston
* 902 SmartBus between Melbourne Airport, Greensborough, Doncaster, Springvale and Chelsea
* 903 SmartBus between La Trobe Uni, Heidelberg, Doncaster, Box Hill, Chadstone and Mentone
* New Wollert - Northern Hospital - Epping - Plenty Rd bus wormhole

These are mostly new (620, Wollert) or realigned (902, 903) high patronage potential bus routes. Current frequencies on these corridors are from 15 to 40 minutes so upgrades would involve significant extra resources. However some would be clawed back by reducing route overlaps, particularly in north-eastern Melbourne, where frequencies are out of kilter with usage. Also reform would provide a substantial BRT style network for much of middle and outer Melbourne. The success of these longer routes (especially the split orbitals) likely depends more on the priority that can be accorded (to enable faster and more reliable timetables) than band-aids like 'rapid running' alone. 

Conclusion 

Rapid running is a 'big city' bus idea. There may be a case for it on some routes in Melbourne. However we don't have enough of a frequent 'big city' bus network to make it widely applicable.  

A much larger scale rapid-running roll-out requires us to develop a frequent 'top tier' bus network first. Several high patronage potential corridors have been suggested for this. 

'Rapid running' is not a cure-all. The real game-changers for buses are simplified, more frequent networks and 7-day bus priority to enable shorter and more reliable journey times. This would increase passenger boardings per kilometre and free up resources for further service upgrades and frequency improvements.

Your thoughts on all this are appreciated. Have you tried the 246 or other routes lately? What have been your experiences? Would you rather faster time in the bus or set timetables at stops? Or maybe you think some routes should or should not adopt rapid running in preference to those discussed. Please leave any comments below. 



Friday, October 15, 2021

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 109: Fixing Maribyrnong public transport's black hole

Want the worst of both worlds in a suburb? Combine high-rise with high car dependence. Here the sacrifices made on outdoor space and privacy are not offset by superior accessibility. In some cases facilities may be physically close but walkability is compromised by wide fast roads and seas of parking one must cross to go anywhere. 

Melbourne is building such developments apace. We have no enforced coverage, service or speed standards for public transport for any housing development, let alone that which is high density. And we're not great with active transport either. 

While often derided by developer interests and their urbanist cheerleaders as 'NIMBYs', opponents of high rise in poorly serviced areas are absolutely right given our track record of not backing density with service. 

Even the 2006 program of minimum service levels for buses (ie seven day service, hourly to 9pm) missed areas not then considered residential. Some of these areas now are but only rarely have had bus timetables updated to suit. 

Many large scale or dense developments have proceeded despite lacking good transit access and service, even in inner or middle suburbs. A few examples include:

*Alphington Paper Mill site (weekday buses half-hourly and no weekend service - see 546)
* M-City Clayton on Princes Hwy (two infrequent bus routes, only one is seven days)
* Kodak site housing at Coburg North (served only by half-hourly six day per week 526)
* Factory and retail outlets such as near and behind Moorabbin Airport (828 infrequent weekends)
* New Quay Docklands (yes it has trams but speed and geometry are poor) 

Fishermans Bend threatens to add itself to the above if much more gets built there before Melbourne Metro 2. 

Dense places like Moonee Ponds have both trains and trams but one must choose between speed (trains) and frequency (trams). No mode offers both because of our habit of running trains infrequently off-peak and accepting slow speeds on trams. Not only that but one of the latter, the 82 tram with 20 minute gaps on weekdays, offers neither speed nor frequency. 


Current connectivity from Maribyrnong

Mention of the 82 tram brings us to what's near its middle. Highpoint Shopping Centre. Not only that but a growing forest of apartments as industrial landholders sell or develop. More people means more cars and continual gridlock, unless transport other than driving offers a reasonable alternative. 

A quick summary of current public transport offerings in Maribyrnong and surrounds is as follows: 

Tram 57: Frequent but slow to CBD, with am peak time to Flinders St approaching 50 minutes. May be possible to save some time by changing to train at Ascot Vale but off-peak trains only every 20 - 40 min. Physical tram/train interchange not well provided for. 

Tram 82: Operates to Moonee Ponds and Footscray. Less direct than most tram routes. Least frequent tram in Melbourne with 20 min frequency off-peak weekdays. This is a lesser service than in the 1980s when the area was far less developed. Requires a change at Footscray for CBD travel. 

Bus 223: Operates to Footscray and then on to Yarraville.  A remnant of the Footscray tram system it offers no unique coverage as it is largely overlapped by other routes including the 82 tram and buses 406 and 472. Its Monday to Saturday 15 minute frequency doesn't evenly mesh with trains at Footscray (either every 10 or 20 min) yet is not enough to be considered turn-up-and-go for short trips in dense areas such as this. Poorly used at the Yarraville end. 

Bus 406: Footscray to Keilor East bus via Victoria University. Indirect between there and Highpoint with a different path north and southbound. High usage not reflected in its low service levels. Every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday, but only every 40 min Sundays with finish approximately 9pm most nights. However route has recently gained 24/7 operation on weekends under Night Bus reform.  

Bus 407: A minor coverage bus route that operates from Highpoint to East Keilor. Limited hours and lacks seven day service. Useful to consider if reforming the 406. 

Bus 409: Infrequent and indirect Yarraville - Footscray - Highpoint bus providing local coverage for Edgewater Estate. May however come into play if straightening and simplifying other routes like the 406. 

To summarise, the main routes that connect Maribyrnong with the outside world are the 57 and 82 trams and the 223 and 406 buses. None offer fast turn-up-and-go access from a densifying area. Issues are summarised on the map below. 


Some have suggested heavy rail options, including having Highpoint as a stop on an airport rail line. This alignment however has been rejected by the state government with the proposed airport rail instead to operate via Sunshine. Here I will only discuss shorter term measures, such as service improvements on existing lines and bus network reform. 

Six steps to better Maribyrnong transport access 

Here's how you might make Maribyrnong less of a transport 'black hole'. More detail under the map. 


1. 406 Footscray - Highpoint Megabus. This is a consolidation of bus resources from routes 223 and 406 to create a single, simple and frequent route between Footscray, VU and Highpoint. Buses could run every 10 minutes seven days per week to provide a turn-up-and-go service connecting evenly with trains at Footscray. Maximum waits late at night would be 20 minutes, timed to connect with Werribee line trains at Footscray (also every 20 minutes). Route 409 would be modified (and potentially upgraded) to retain coverage in the area missed by the straightened 406.  Every second 406 trip would extend to Keilor East or beyond (see later). 

2. New 405 Tottenham - Highpoint bus. A proposed route to give Tottenham station its first feeder bus. This is intended to provide a faster train feeder than existing routes via Footscray. Service could be every 20 minutes or better, especially in the peaks. The route via Ashley St could enable other reform such as a frequent 220 tram-like 'Megabus' down Ballarat Rd in conjunction with reform to Route 410. A side-benefit would be an extra connection to Highpoint for parts of Braybrook and West Footscray. A potential later extension might see the route run south to Yarraville, providing a feeder for another densifying area.  

3. Upgraded 82 tram frequency. First priority would be to boost weekday off-peak service from 20 to 15 minutes, and then to 10 minutes. Evening service could be boosted to 20 minutes with services optimised to meet with Werribee line trains at Footscray and/or Craigieburn line trains at Ascot Vale. 

4. Routing 903 SmartBus via Highpoint. When the SmartBus orbital network was planned it was proposed that there would be a 'blue orbital' that would connect to Highpoint. This never happened. The only SmartBus that made it to the western suburbs was the 903 or 'red orbital'. It overlaps much of the 465 along Buckley Street, missing major destinations between Essendon and Sunshine. The map shows the 903 being rerouted via Highpoint to replace the existing but lower frequency routes 468 and 408 (eastern part). This would improve connectivity to the Craigieburn line at Essendon and through Braybrook to Sunshine. To retain service in the Keilor East area there would be a compensatory extension of Route 406 (to Sunshine), reform of Route 407 and improved operating hours and frequencies on routes such as 406 and 465. More detail here

5. Trains every 10 minutes to Craigieburn and Watergardens. These are the two train lines either side of Maribyrnong. They are amongst the busier lines on the network but off-peak frequencies are only every 20 minutes (weekday interpeak), 30 minutes (night) and 40 minutes (Sunday morning). An upgrade might boost daytime frequency to 10 minutes and night frequency to 20 minutes, such as enjoyed on the Frankston line. This increase would assist connections with the 82 tram at Ascot Vale and the proposed 405 bus at Tottenham. 

6. Upgraded Route 57 tram frequency. Frequency is already good at most times. A key upgrade could be reducing maximum waits from 30 to 20 minutes by boosting Sunday evening service. Later upgrades would reduce maximum waits to 15 and then 10 minutes for more of the day. 

Conclusion

Described have been six upgrades to improve public transport access in fast-developing Maribyrnong. Most involve off-peak upgrades and bus network reform. Once done the area's density and activity fully warrant infrastructure upgrades, for instance tram modernisation and bus speed upgrades including 'bus wormholes' on the major corridors. Comments are invited and can be left below. 


See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #137: Route 546 - The Yarra's north bank bus

 


Route 546 is a quirky bus route in Melbourne's inner to middle north-east. Running from Heidelberg to Clifton Hill and then to either Melbourne University or Queen Victoria Markets it serves everything from wealthy 'old money' suburbia to densifying clusters of modern apartments. State seats it serves include Richmond (marginal Labor - Richard Wynne), Northcote (marginal Labor - Kat Theophanous)  and Ivanhoe (safe Labor - Anthony Carbines). 

Route 546 received attention lately when one of its stop was removed in conjunction with the introduction of the 202 shuttle. The route almost but not quite runs in to the Melbourne CBD. It has an oddity where peak trips serve Melbourne University and off-peak trips serve Queen Victoria Market. The map below shows its alignment is roughly north-east, between the Hurstbridge line and the Yarra River. 

A view of the 546 in relation to other routes is below. 

Much of it parallels the inner part of the Hurstbridge train line from Clifton Hill to Heidelberg. However it has sufficient unique catchment that at least portions of it justify keeping, especially given density increases along it. It may connect with Parkville station on the Metro Tunnel when that is completed in a few years. 

The 546 has several roles. These include its use as the only buses in parts of Ivanhoe East. It is also the nearest radial public transport for the southern part of Alphington. It also provides a possibility for Mernda and Hurstbridge passengers to change to it at Clifton Hill for a faster trip to Melbourne University. However since the much more frequent 202 started they would now be better off to catch that from Victoria Park. 

Timetable


Bus 546 runs every half hour from about 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday. The route was one of the 50-odd overlooked by the 2006 MOTC plan which delivered 7 day hourly minimum service standards to  many bus routes throughout Melbourne. 

Hence it has no weekend or public holiday service, although there was a Saturday morning service prior to the massive October 1991 service cuts whose axe-marks remain apparent in timetables of three decades later. Some later weeknight trips got added in the 2000s. More recently the route had issues with timetable adherance and run times got extended. 

Apart from the lack of Saturday service, the 546 timetable has some similarities with the 548 (with which parts overlap) and the 549 in basic service level and operating hours. 

Last year I identified the 546 as one of the thirteen bus routes that most deserve Saturday service to be restored or added, largely due to its areas of unique coverage and dense development along it. 



History

The 546 has had some chopping and changing, particularly to its termini at the city end. You can trace its evolution via network maps hosted by BCSV and historic timetables at Krustylink. Termini at various times changed from East Melbourne to Collingwood to Clifton Hill to Melbourne University or Queen Victoria Markets. 

Conclusion

Route 546 is one of those bus routes that has just stagnated despite all the change around it. For example the dense development at Alphington has not spurred a service increase, not even to the 7 day hourly minimum standard service level. On the other hand the portion between Clifton Hill and Melbourne University may see reduced usage due to the 202 providing a more frequent shuttle. Its timetable is living testament to the need for bus service reform in Melbourne to address 30 or more year backlogs as things change around basically stagnant bus services. 

Friday, October 08, 2021

Building Melbourne's Useful network Part 108: Transport to Moorabbin's jobs


Moorabbin was proposed as a district centre in the 1954 Metropolitan Planning Scheme. It got a transport kick-start with road/rail grade separations and later a third track but, unlike Box Hill, significant private and public institutional development either didn't happen or were too distant from the centre to contribute to its vitality. Moorabbin was too much of a traffic sewer for local shopping (where neighbouring Bentleigh and even Highett took custom) and was overlooked when the area's major drive-in centre opened at Southland in 1968. 

The early 1990s were a time of decline for Victoria generally and Moorabbin especially. Deindustrialisation hit local jobs. St Kilda ceased playing home games at Moorabbin oval in 1992. Instead of it being a convenient stroll from Moorabbin station, 'home' games moved to the inaccessible Waverley Park. 

Local government amalgamation was another blow, with the disbanded City of Moorabbin split between Kingston, Glen Eira and Bayside councils. There's a town hall used for shows but it lacks even a public library. The aquatic centre is down the other end of the suburb, in the industrial area. Southland continued to expand, leaping over the Nepean Hwy. Big box retail opened up and down Nepean Hwy between Brighton and Mentone, Moorabbin became little more than the traffic-choked intersection at South Road, to be avoided if possible. 

Moorabbin's successful niche

There was one exception to this story of failure. Light industry. Moorabbin, along with Clayton and areas around Dandenong were centres of light and heavy manufacturing in Melbourne's south-east. Moorabbin more smaller scale and Clayton / Dandenong more heavy, including electronics and automotive. The latter slumped when protection wound back from the mid 1970s. Typical industries found at Moorabbin include metals, automotive, building supplies, printing, cabinetry, furnishing, food and more. Also important in the areas's east is 'big box' retail (including op-shops) on Warrigal Rd and the Kingston Centre slightly south of there. 

The industrial trades area can be identified by the island of shiny metal roofs in a sea of post WWII tiled houses. It is just over a square mile with none but its western extremity within walking distance of a Frankston line station (most often Highett but seldom Southland and never Moorabbin). 

The 'last mile' problem

If there was anywhere that needed 'last mile' access to jobs from a nearby rail line, it would be here. How well is it being achieved? At first glance it looks pretty good with eight bus routes running through or near the area. That's much more than other light industrial areas like Bayswater or Laverton. 

But are they useful? Or do they just go through the industrial area because it happens to be on the way to somewhere else? Are local buses job ready? The map below gives a snapshot of issues affecting Moorabbin area routes.  


Frequency and connectivity

The main issues that make transit access to the Moorabbin industrial area so (unnecessarily) hard can be put under two headings: frequency and connectivity. 

Frequency first.

The only really frequent route is the 903 SmartBus down Warrigal Rd. This is every 15 min weekday interpeak and better than 10 min during the peaks. This is followed by the 824 every 20 minutes on weekdays. All other routes have basic frequencies of half-hourly or hourly. Some, like 811/812 (each hourly) have deviations, with only a handful of trips per day serving the heart of the industrial area. 

Secondly there's connectivity. From here you need access to surrounding residential areas where workers are likely to live and, for those coming from further afield, direct connections to the Frankston and preferably Dandenong lines. 

Of the latter the Frankston line is closest, being slightly beyond walking distance of the Moorabbin industrial area. However Moorabbin industrial area routes hardly ever run to its adjacent stations like Moorabbin, HIghett and Southland. The only useful route that really does is the 824. The 811/812 does but its occasional trips are rarely useful. 

Then there is the 903 running south to Mentone station. There's some backtracking involved if coming from the north. Besides the bungled design and rebuilding of the new Mentone station destroyed any convenient interchange with buses as explained here. It's more common for the main bus routes (eg Routes 631, 767, 821) to stop short at Southland Shopping Centre bus interchange. This is a long way from Southland Station with the indirect walk many times longer than the 1 minute a good interchange takes. 


Recent initiatives

There has been no significant bus network reform in the area for at least 20 years. Rail projects (like new stations) that ordinarily trigger bus reform in other parts of Melbourne have not done so here. Opportunities not yet taken up include the new station at Southland and the rebuilding of Cheltenham's as part of the grade separation. And, as mentioned before, Mentone's new station has made bus connectivity worse, not better.   

The Kingston area local bus review from over 10 years ago proposed some reforms. It wasn't much acted on. Neither have there been significant recent proposals for bus services. The closest we got was 2018's Mordialloc review but its proposals for regular route buses were poor and were (thankfully) dropped.

It's not that there hasn't been action on transport; there has been. Except it's been all about encouraging driving via the under-construction Mordialloc Freeway and the long way off Suburban Rail Loop (which won't have a stop in the area). Frequent and direct buses,  so important in providing 'last mile' access to jobs and homes, have been the missing piece. 


Prospects and opportunities

Older 1950s-era industrial areas like Moorabbin are better laid out than newer industrial areas as regards public transport. For example permeability is better, they more likely have grid streets and they are closer to existing residential suburbs and the rail network. This creates opportunities for bus reform to improve local public transport access. 

Especially important is that their relative contiguity and compactness can enable routes to run with multiple purposes including residential area coverage. This is good for patronage and a simple seven day network with wide operating hours. With any luck it will be possible for such routes to provide full coverage without the need for part-time and often indirect industrial routes (like the 417 in Laverton North).  

Below are four network concepts. Each has their pros and cons as regard to frequency and connectivity for a given level of resourcing. 

1. This shuttle concept is similar to the niche service that has worked well for universities a few kilometres from the station. The concept is you layer a short direct route over the existing network and run it frequently. You can do that with few buses as the route kilometres is short. The aim is to do one thing and do it well. The concept below shows such a route from Moorabbin station. It rather than the closer Highett was chosen as it avoids buses having to cross a level crossing. The unidirectional running saves route kilometres so permits a higher frequency with a given number of buses. 


2. Here we take the shuttle route and split it so it runs between two interchanges (in this case Moorabbin and Southland). This makes more trips zero or one interchange only. The trade-off is that the route is longer. This means a lower frequency for a given number of buses. The two interchanges are however on the same radial corridor. 

3. Below is an even longer route running between two railway lines. Termini could be Moorabbin and possibly Clayton stations. Some homes would get a no-change connection to the industrial area. It is even longer than the above route so similar comments with regard to a reduced frequency apply. That is unless there is already an existing route that could be modified to run via more of the industrial area in which case reform could be more economical than adding a new route. 


4. Last is a grid network concept. The existing network has a lot of the ingredients of this but not enough as routes mostly do not directly run to Frankston line stations. Also a true grid network relies on interchange between intersecting routes. Current frequencies on all routes except the 903 are not sufficient to reliably enable this. However these could be increased if network reform reduces overlap and reforms rather than add routes. 


Towards a revised network

A reformed network may be a mix of the above four options. Some changes are relatively logical with few 'losers' while others involve complex trade-offs or interactions with other routes. 

Because some of the routes that pass through the Moorabbin jobs area end up 15 more kilometres distant it's desirable that what's done in Moorabbin do not detract from their role further along it. For example it would be poor for a route that is direct and justifies a more frequent service on one part of it be made less direct in another area where a lower service is more justified. 

You can reduce the number of network options, and thus the complexity of a reform, by doing the following: 

a. Making note of routes that can stay the same as now as they are already useful, frequent and direct. 

b. Making certain changes that have so much merit that you'd do them no matter the network options for remaining routes. 

The routes you'd keep in their current form are the 824 on South Rd and the 903 along Warrigal Rd. Arguably there may be merit in extending the former to the Brighton area via the 811/812 alignment but this wider change doesn't affect its alignment in the industrial area. You might also add earlier am trips to better suit industrial start times but this is only a timetable change, not a route change. 903 is a also a strong corridor that you'd leave alone. 

The above takes care of South and Warrigal roads, to the north and east of the jobs area. Chesterville Rd is to the west of most (though some industrial land uses are west of Chesterville). This is currently served by the 767. This is one of those routes without a train station connection to the Frankston line. It is also only half-hourly off-peak. It could be described as a neighbourhood type route south of Chadstone, with the portion north of Chadstone being a more important route (being more direct and service large destinations like Deakin University and Box Hill). 

822 also has its indirectness in the Bentleigh East area though direct roads and other routes exist for network reform to straighten it. As it happens the roads a straightened 822 would run along (Murrumbeena and East Boundary) are exactly half way between the Frankston train line and the Warrigal Rd 903 SmartBus. This makes the 822 a logical candidate for a future upgrade to 10 - 20 minute frequency (as opposed to the current 30 - 60 minute service). Swapping it with the 767 (map below) would extend the benefits of this better service to the Chesterville Rd end of the Moorabbin light industrial area. As well it adds a train station connection at Cheltenham, something that the current 767 does not do due to its Southland bus interchange terminus. (NOTE: Map doesn't show unchanged 824 or 903). 

With these parts of the network settled, the loose ends can now be tackled. The most significant of these include: 

a. Continued lack of east-west connections from Frankston line stations to the industrial area. 

b. Desirability of a more regular service for Keys Rd (also east-west) 

c. Connections to residential areas like Clarinda and Clayton (which have a blue collar oriented workforce with significant commuter flows to the area)

The Suburban Rail Loop, starting at Southland, will pass quite near the area. A station is not planned in the area. However a Suburban Rail Loop SmartBus between Southland and Clayton may have local stops. Because of the long spacing between SRL stations this route would remain even after SRL commences operation. A potential SRL SmartBus alignment, based on an extended Route 733 from Clayton, would see upgraded service in Bernard St, about 300 metres south of Keys Rd (map below). 

The extended 733 would provide an extra Clarinda/Clayton connection. This would assist access to southern parts of the industrial area distant from the 824 on South Rd. However industrial area patronage wouldn't be the whole (or even a majority) of its usage due to the improved connections between the strong destinations of Monash University, Clayton Station and Southland Shopping Centre. A continuation to Southland station would be highly desirable to provide an east-west Frankston line connection. While the route is on this alignment it would be desirable that it run directly to Sandringham, improving service to another industrial area along Bay Rd. This would provide a new Monash University connection and be more frequent and useful than the existing indirect 822 (or 767 shown on an earlier map). 

The network with the extended 733 fixes some issues but not all. For example Keys Rd doesn't have a service along it (although the 733 is nearby). Also there is still a gap in east-west connections. Highett is the nearest station to most of the industrial area. However it has a level crossing. Although buses on Route 708 cross that on Highett Rd, it might not be thought desirable to add another route. Also if buses were run from Moorabbin, scope exists to replace the existing confusing routes 811 and 812 with alternatives, including on the residential Chapel Rd. 

Network option A

This option take the above and reroutes 821. Instead of running to Southland it instead operates to Moorabbin Station. Doing so connects this to Keys Rd and services Chapel Rd. The 811/812 can be shortened to operate between Southland and Dandenong only with the Brighton - Moorabbin portion serviced by a westward extension of the 824. The latter would improve off-peak weekday frequency from 30 to 20 minutes. The loss of 821 to Southland would be offset by the new 733 between Clayton and Southland. In conjunction with the unchanged 631 this would maintain two routes between Clayton and Southland. 

The revised 821 would likely gain hourly weekend service to retain 7 day service on Chapel Rd similar to what the 811/812 now provides. Scope exists to swap the 821 with the 705 to provide direct access to the Moorabbin industrial area from Springvale and for 705 to enable better Mordialloc - Clayton / Monash access. 

Network option B

Another option could likewise replace 811/812 with another route in the area. This might be known as the 826, running between Moorabbin and Southland via the industrial area and Friendship Square in Cheltenham. This could enable the southern part of the 631 to be deleted, with the service replaced in the Clarinda area by the extended 733 and potentially a re-aligned 824. Again the latter would need to be extended to Brighton to replace the deleted part of the 811/812. 821, which runs through a large 'dead' catchment might still need to be upgraded given the loss of the 631 on Kingston Rd. 

Conclusion

Two bus network options for the Moorabbin industrial area are offered. Either will involve extra buses and extra costs versus the existing network. However it should greatly improve connectivity to local jobs and deliver other benefits well beyond its area, including support for the Suburban Rail Loop. 

Which option do you prefer? Or maybe there's another that offers further advantages? Comments are invited and can be left below. 


More Building Melbourne's Useful Network items are here


Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Timetable Tuesday 136: New bus route 390 starts later this month

Quite a lot has happened lately with bus services. We've seen the new Night Network commence with extended hours on selected routes (though not 24 hours yet due to curfew restrictions), a much needed reshuffle of service resources within the Transdev group from quieter to busier routes, the new Route 202 shuttle and, yesterday, the end of Telebus, with FlexiRide taking over in the Lilydale area

On the weekend we learned that Skybus operator Kinetic will take over Transdev routes involving one-third of Melbourne's buses. Transdev's loss was not unexpected; they did some good things with run times and network reform but couldn't run a consistently clean, safe and reliable service. Key factors were thin margins, tight inherited timetables, lax contract supervision by PTV and internal management issues. Transdev's bad luck continued yesterday, today and possibly longer with mass cancellations due to COVID-related driver unavailability. 

The next cab off the rank (or bus out the depot) is the new Route 390. It will run from Craigieburn Station to Mernda, thus joining the outer stations of each line. It will start at the end of this month. Advice is on the PTV website here

Background

Labor promised a Mernda - Wollert - Craigieburn bus in the 2018 election campaign. It got funding in the 2019/20 state budget. Public consultation was promised for late 2020. The pandemic greatly scaled back government face-to-face engagement with the public on many matters (not just transport) so I don't think this actually happened. 

Mill Park member Lily D'Ambrosio MP posted about its arrival later this year back in January, around the time that tenders were called. The route also serves Yan Yean (Danielle Green MP), Thomastown (Bronwyn Halfpenny MP) and a little Yuroke (Ros Spence MP). Dysons, who already operate all the buses around Mernda, was the successful tenderer. 


Route description

The route is almost a straight east-west route. The road layout necessitates a bend at Wollert. There is also a bend off Bridge Inn Rd at the Mernda end for improved residential area coverage. A map is below:


The special thing about the 390 is that it links the outermost stations on the Metro train network on parallel adjacent lines. This is rare as such routes would be pointless between most other rail termini due to unfavourable geometry, caused by lines being being different lengths, and development patterns with low catchment populations between lines. The only other cases where joining rail termini makes sense is Frankston - Cranbourne (provided by the popular Route 791) and possibly Belgrave - Lilydale (served by the less popular 663). Otherwise it is better to run direct bus routes along the road grid from the end of one line to the middle of another, such as Upfield to Broadmeadows, Sandringham to Southland or Cranbourne to Narre Warren/Berwick. 

How does the 390 relate to other routes and destinations? A large number of routes meet it at both Craigieburn and Mernda stations. Most are every 40 minutes off-peak so it's pot luck whether connections are good.

The 390 terminates at Craigieburn Station in the west. This means that it misses Craigieburn Town Centre and Route 541, the area's main north-south bus route (with a 20 minute weekday frequency, which in outer northern suburbs is rare). There is a small group of shops near Craigieburn Station but overall the main reason you'd alight there is the station to change to a train or another bus. Another  handicap is that the route passes but has no stops near the industrial area east of the station.   

Three Wollert area routes operate north from Epping Station (356, 357 and 358). Unfortunately they finish slightly short of Craigieburn Rd. Hence there will be no easy access from Epping North and parts of Wollert to Craigieburn as the routes do not intersect with the 390 and are not being extended to do so. 


This gap creates 'missing links', particularly as the Mernda line veers east from Epping and catching a bus to Epping to board a Mernda train and then the 390 results in more than doubled the distance travelled than should be necessary.

Service levels

Route 390 operates over hours broadly similar to the 'minimum standards' proposed in 2006 and partly implemented since. That is 6am - 9pm weekdays, 8am - 9pm Saturdays and 9am - 9pm Sundays. It was later realised that the weekend starts were too late for many peoples' routines so these were made an hour earlier on some new routes. This was notably the case for Mernda area bus routes like 386 with longer operating hours than most (even before its recent Night Network upgrade). 

There was never published information on the finer points of these standards. For instance whether the first bus should arrive at the station before 6am or whether it should just be on the road around then. 

However way you look at it it seems the 390 has span issues. For example the first trip arrives at Mernda after 7am. Given the length of the train trip from Mernda, this means even the first bus won't get you into the CBD before 8am, making it unsuitable for early starters. The first trip on Saturday arrives Mernda just after 8am and on Sunday just before 9am. Mernda also gets a raw deal at the other end of the day, particularly on weekdays where the last trip leaves Mernda at 8:53pm. Ideally there would be one or two earlier eastbound trips, even if they run just the eastern third of the route. 

The Craigieburn end is better looked after with first arrivals about 40 minutes earlier than Mernda. Last departures are also later with the last trip around 9:30pm on all nights of the week. This may be because the bus operator is based nearer to Mernda than Craigieburn and there would be a desire to minimise dead running. Also Mernda has other routes with earlier starts and those in the Wollert area might be more likely to go to Craigieburn rather than Mernda due to the former line's better directness for trips to the CBD. 

We haven't mentioned frequency. Like operating hours the service offering is what we've come to expect from an outer Melbourne route. That is every 40 minutes off-peak. This meshes with trains typically every 20 minutes (or, on Sunday mornings, 40 minutes). Peak frequency is 30 minutes.

Route 390's run time is just over 40 minutes in the peak and just under 40 minutes off-peak. Given the abovementioned frequencies this provides a fairly efficient operation with two buses off-peak and three buses peak. It is possible that an extension to Craigieburn Town Centre, while desirable to give it a stronger terminus, would make the route inefficient at its specified frequencies due to the increased run time. Or maybe not - keep reading.  


Likely usage patterns

We're going to have to guess as service hasn't started yet. I see two dominant use patterns for the 390, as follows:

(i) Western Mernda (Mernda Rise estate) to Mernda Station (as the 390 is the only bus in the area)

(ii) Wollert to Craigieburn (as the 390 is the only bus to the Craigieburn line and provides unique coverage to areas north of Craigieburn Rd, eg Amber and Arramont estates)

It will serve both rail feeder and shopper functions. Mernda should be stronger than Craigieburn in the latter as the 390 doesn't extend to the Craigieburn Town Centre. The 390 is likely to offer a faster connection to the rail network as it is more direct than existing Route 357 (especially) to Epping from parts of Wollert.

Far fewer passengers will travel eastbound from Wollert to Mernda. The main reason for this is that many of the Mernda line's major attractions (eg hospitals, shopping and TAFE) are at Epping. For those close to them routes 356, 357 and 358 will offer better access. The geometry of routes and railways is such that even if your destination was South Morang you would go this way.

Just like with the (longer) SmartBus orbitals, I don't think that many will travel end to end from Craigieburn to Mernda on the 390. This is due to (a) network geometry and (b) neither Craigieburn nor Mernda being really strong destinations in their own right. For travel across the north the 901 SmartBus will continue to be dominant, with the bonus of direct access to major destinations around Broadmeadows, Epping and South Morang. The lack of end to end travel is not critical to the success of the 390 due to the local coverage function it provides, including it being the nearest bus to many homes. 


Potential enhancements

390's importance will increase as the area develops. Nevertheless opportunities exist for it to be more useful to more people sooner. Examples may include: 

* Stop at Craigieburn industrial area east of station. This is distant enough to justify its own stop but the PTV website map is not showing one. 


* Northern extension of routes 356, 357 and/or 358 so they physically intersect the 390. This could assist some local trips from Mernda Rise Estate, such as to Northern Hospital and Epping Plaza. Without these connections travel for these quite local trips would involve getting the 390 east to Mernda, a train to Epping then another bus via an indirect route. 

* Extension to the Craigieburn Town Centre to provide a stronger terminus and connections with key routes like the 541. Many routes already join the station with the town centre so just extending the 390 would be an unnecessary and inefficient overlap. 

The shortest, and most 'east west' of these existing routes is the 537. It has a run time of under 20 minutes, making a 40 minute frequency possible with one bus. In theory merging it with the 390 should thus be efficient, at least-off-peak. In practice though such arrangements are made harder by the routes being run by different operators, in this case 390 by Dysons and 537 by Broadmeadows Bus. 


Successful precedents exists for multiple operators to run the one route. Examples include the 900 SmartBus to Rowville and the Route 400 between Laverton and Sunshine. Such arrangements may need to be countenanced more in the future if we are to develop the best possible local bus networks. 

Conclusion

This has been a look at the new 390. It provides a direct connection between two roughly parallel railway lines. Even more significant is its role as the nearest bus for growing parts of Wollert and Mernda to provide a feeder and local transit function. Its usage can only grow in the future but  some enhancements to improve its usefulness earlier have been described. Your comments on these would be welcome and can  be left below.

 Index to Timetable Tuesday items


Saturday, October 02, 2021

NEWS: Goodbye Transdev, Welcome Kinetic

The winner of Melbourne's Metropolitan Bus Franchise was announced today. 

Kinetic, who operates Skybus, was the successful bidder. 

They will replace Transdev on 31 January 2022. 

More in this Twitter thread. 

https://twitter.com/MelbOnTransit/status/1444132060088524807

Background here: https://melbourneontransit.blogspot.com/2020/09/exclusive-more-on-new-metropolitan-bus.html





Friday, October 01, 2021

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 107: Could do better - the verdict on Keysborough's new 816 bus


Let's pretend we can go out tonight. We're off to the Keysborough hotel for a game of 'bad bus bingo'. 




The card we get looks something like this:


Before long we had lines through everything. Everything on the card reflected how buses in Keysborough were like in real life. 

The game showed that if there was anywhere in Melbourne that deserved bus reform and had the greatest opportunities for same, it would be Springvale/ Noble Park/ Keysborough/ Dandenong. Specific issues are mapped below with a more detailed write-up here


There's money but is it going on the best possible network?

Funding is sometimes stated as a sticking point to bus reform. Some smaller reforms, such as simplifying overlapping routes, can be done very cheaply. Still it's a lot easier if some extra money is thrown in as you can have higher frequencies, longer hours and more winners from network reform. 

As it happens there is money for Keysborough area buses. The 2019 Victorian State Budget committed resources for a new bus route for Keysborough South. The lead time for new bus routes meant that nothing was heard about it for a while.  

Back in May I speculated on what the new Keysborough south route might look like, with several options presented. One idea was a new route simply layered over the existing network. This would be less disruptive to users of other routes but would add complexity and benefit fewer people than a wider network reform. 'Grafted on planning' is (regrettably) common Department of Transport practice with the 709 extended to Noble Park several years ago being a recent local example. Other options present larger reforms with wider benefits out of proportion to their cost. These chiefly involve a doubling of service on the busy but still only hourly 813 bus. 

What we currently know

More information about what's actually happening has come out since I wrote that item back in May. The new service will be known as Route 816. It will start on November 28 with the timetable available from 29 October. A written description of the changes appears on Gabrielle Williams MP's Facebook page with more information provided in replies to queries. 







The welcome news is that the new 816 route is not simply grafted on to an unchanged local network. Instead Route 815 will be deleted while 813 will get more trips. The second message states that no Route 815 stops will be left unserved. These will either be covered by the new 816 or the boosted 813.

From this we can surmise that the north half of the new 816 will replace the Noble Park - Parkmore portion of the 815. The Dandenong Star article says that the rest of the route will run via Church, Chapel and Hutton roads. Local schools and the shopping centre at Keysborough South will be served. Like the 815 the 816 will run every 60 minutes off-peak. However its peak service will be every 30 minutes. It should also operate 7 days over longer hours. This was something that the 815, with its midday Saturday finish and no Sunday service, sorely lacked.

A notional map of this revised network, based on currently available information, is below.  


What happens to the buses?  There may be scheduling and rostering subtleties, with buses moving between routes for improved reliability and shift efficiency. But if you were going to rigidly assign buses to routes the allocation would look something like this: 

In summary the deleted 815 loses a bus to the boosted 813. The new 816 has a peak requirement of two buses (presumably new). Because the timetable drops to hourly off-peak one of those buses would only be used during peak times. Not running it all day saves some driver hours but represents an inefficient use of assets that we should try to avoid. This is especially so in a low-income area (like Noble Park) whose demographic uses off-peak buses a lot.   

Winners and losers

The big gain is of course the improved coverage of Keysborough South. The new 816 also brings higher peak frequency and better operating hours for those on unique parts of the 815 that currently get only a limited  5.5 day per week service. However 816's hourly off-peak frequency remains underwhelming. 

Then there's Route 813's frequency boost. Any amount is welcome but what's being delivered (an increase from every 60 to every 40 minutes) does not reflect its very high boardings per kilometre productivity. The 813 could easily justify a 20 or (at minimum) 30 minute service on at least the Dandenong to Springvale portion. In addition while the 813's Dandenong to Springvale alignment of the 813 is sound its continuation beyond there to Waverley Gardens makes the route confusing and arguably duplicative with parts of the 814. 

The decision to route the 816 via the current 815 alignment means that Corrigan Rd does not get a direct bus to Noble Park Station. In contrast Dandenong - Chandler Rd gets two overlapping routes but with a mostly inferior service to now. These include the hourly 812 and the 40 minutely 813. Because these are at incompatible frequencies it will not be possible to provide an even combined service, resulting in long gaps. Overall there will be fewer buses on that portion than now where there is a three bus per hour service between Monday and Saturday morning. 

How did the Bingo game go? 

Check the card. 
The new network sorts out coverage (Keysborough South) and operating hours (no more midday Saturday finish or routes without Sunday service). Not all main roads get a simple direct route and operating hours aren't quite as good as they could be so these are down as partial fixes. Hourly waits, weak termini, confusing routes, inefficient overlaps and nothing direct to nearby employment areas like Dandenong South remain unresolved. 

Missed opportunities

November's Keysborough network is generally better than what currently runs. It delivers some upgrades outside Keysborough, notably through the 813 frequency upgrade. But it could have been better still if a fuller review, involving two to four more routes, was done. Along with resourcing that reflected the area's needs, demographics and high bus usage. 

Given that it was funded in the May 2019 state budget there should have been enough time to have delivered a wider network reform. If there wasn't (COVID notwithstanding) the Department of Transport needs to speed its internal processes and boost delivery capacity. Otherwise it will have difficulty meeting the even bigger reform expectations raised by Victoria's Bus Plan.  

Even if the network wasn't reformed as much as it should have been, running the new 816 only hourly  off-peak in an area dense enough to support frequent all day service is particularly poor. This is because there'll be a bus sitting around idle except for a few trips in the peaks. A hint could have been taken from the 709 which runs a flat half-hourly service at all times instead of dropping back off-peak. 

The big missed opportunity however is better frequency on at least the Dandenong - Springvale portion of the 813 given its high usage. The increase from 60 to 40 minutes is insufficient to offset the cut made on Chandler Rd arising from the (justified) deletion of the 815 on this portion. Furthermore a boost to 813 could allow reform and simplification on heavily duplicative parts of the 812. 

Route 813 deserves a 7 day 20 minute service given its patronage (>40 boardings/hour) and catchment demographics. But even every 30 minutes would be more usable and memorable than the proposed 40 minute service. Also notable is that with imaginative bus reform of the sort we're not getting it might not even involve additional bus purchases. 

How could you get Route 813 up to every 30 minutes? It's roughly 60 minutes end to end so it needs four buses dedicated to the route. As opposed to two that run now and three that would operate if it was every 40 minutes. Because its route length is uncomfortably close to 60 minutes (and sometimes over) it might be desirable to shorten it for directness and efficiency. 



Improvement options (Phase 1)

Whether the shortening is done or not there's still the need to find the extra bus if we want service better than every 40 minutes. Or reduced overlap between routes so we can increase frequencies while retaining coverage. There's several options. 

A messy and not necessarily cheapest approach is just to operate 816's peak bus on the 813 between say 10am and 3pm weekdays and preferably also weekends. That delivers a partial off-peak upgrade from 40 to 30 minutes but doesn't help peak service. 813's run time of very close to (and sometimes exceeding) an hour might not be ideal for reliability without reforming the route.    

Those after 'cheap' might look at the 709 between Mordialloc and Noble Park. This has a patchy catchment, with it being weaker at the Mordialloc end than the Noble Park end. With a 40 - 45 minute route length it currently uses three buses to run a 30 minute frequency. This gives it double the service received by the busier 813. 

The 709 on its own can't be efficiently cut to every 40 minutes with two buses (unless there's excessive run times in the timetable which I won't assume). However if it was operationally joined with the new 816 at Noble Park then you could run a 40 minute frequency on both routes with four buses. This frees up one bus for the 813 upgrade while delivering better (40 min) off-peak service on the new 816. Unfortunately this cuts service on the existing 709 route as well as the peak frequency planned for the 816. And there may be similar issues with 813's run time.

Both options have problems. I don't like them very much because of the service cuts they introduce on large parts of the network where only one route runs. 

A look around Waverley Gardens, where the 813 terminates, is more promising. The area hasn't had reform to its local routes for years. An opportunity exists because it has three routes along Police Rd where routes overlap to serve catchments most populated by dead people. And there is a risk of becoming one of them since pedestrian crossings here are few, making access to stops difficult or risky (choose wisely!). If one of those routes with the least service was removed or redirected then it may be possible to get the extra bus we want and deliver wider upgrades like consistent 7 day service.    


To progress here we need to meet Route 814. This runs from Dandenong to the dead-end terminus of Springvale South via Waverley Gardens and Springvale. It has a limited timetable much like the 815. That is a flat hourly service with a midday Saturday finish and no Sunday trips.  

We don't really need to run 814 all the way along Police Rd given the existence of other routes, the lack of residential catchment and the difficulty of reaching stops. Instead we can run it via the 813 alignment on Hansworth St. Even better if it can be made more direct with a short busway. The presence of the 814 would now mean that we don't need the 813 north of Springvale Station. Shortening the 813 in this manner reduces its run time from 60-odd to about 40-odd minutes. A shorter route means more frequency, allowing us to run an improved 30 minute service between Dandenong and Springvale with three buses. Both locations are strong termini and make the route easier to understand than previously. 

Every bus network reform creates some issues and this is no exception. Although they should be fixable. Both 813 and 814 run to much the same major places, including Springvale, Waverley Gardens and Dandenong, with the revised 814 being quicker to Dandenong. The 814 is also hourly, the same frequency as the 813 it replaces on Hansworth St. However the 814 needs additional hours, including Saturday afternoon and Sunday service to properly replace the 813. Doing this costs money but is a cost-effective ''hours and kilometres only' upgrade in an area that needs it. 

Secondly the revised 814 is a little longer than the existing 814 due to it running via Hansworth St. This is particularly if the bus short-cut is not built and it needs to run via the current 813 alignment (ie Bertrand Av). A way around that could be to terminate the 814 near Springvale Station. Like the 813 terminus this simplifies the route with a stronger terminus. 

If 814 is removed from the area Springvale South needs an alternative. This could either be a slightly rerouted 811 and/or 824. Both offer more destinations and 7 day service compared to the existing dead-end limited service 814. Also, if it is done, removing the hourly 811 from a section of Springvale Rd is more than compensated for by doubling 813's frequency from 60 to 30 minutes on a longer section of Springvale Rd. 


A possible Phase 2

Something like the above network is about the minimum required to qualify as a significant reform of buses in the Springvale/ Noble Park / Keysborough area. It delivers 7 day service on almost all routes, provides logical termini and delivers doubled service on most of the well used 813. 

Notwithstanding this there remain ample scope for a Phase 2 or 3 series of network reforms. Examples include: 

* Further network reform to boost Route 813 to every 20 minutes 7 days with longer operating hours
* Simplification to cut the 812's duplication with other routes (709, 813, 824) between Keysborough and Dandenong and complexity involving the related 811.
* Improved service on corridors and destinations including Heatherton Rd, Monash University and the Dandenong South industrial area. 
* A possible direct Corrigan Rd route to Noble Park Station and Keysborough South similar to Options 1 or 2 here
* Possible excessive closeness of routes 709 and the new 816 south of Noble Park Station
* Other coverage, frequency and legibility improvements in Mulgrave, Noble Park North and Dandenong North as discussed here, here and here.

Addressing these could make the network even simpler and more frequent.  As Phase 1 has already tackled many overlaps, most of the above would require extra resources. However these are justified in this particular area on the grounds of patronage and social need. 


Conclusion

Route 816 and the associated 813 upgrade bring some long needed improvements to buses in  the Keysborough area. However they fall short of the comprehensive network reform the area needs to make buses more useful and frequent. This is despite routes like the 813 being excellent patronage performers that justify service far better than their currently hourly timetable. 

The first stage of a potential reformed network has been presented. Ideas for a further phase have also been listed. No doubt other reforms are possible. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.